If you’ve spent any considerable stretch of time in middle America, chances are good you think you already know everything you would ever need to about George Thorogood and the Destroyers. Songs like “Bad to the Bone”, “I Drink Alone”, and “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” are classic rock radio staples here in the heartland, and when I was growing up, I couldn’t stand them: to my ears, they were without exception cocky, plodding, simplistic, all but unlistenable.
It wasn’t until years later, having taken some time away from classic rock radio (really the only kind of radio you can get in many parts of the Midwest), that I was able to enjoy this music. And even then, having developed only the most rudimentary understanding of the blues, it seemed a trifle too derivative. Sure, I could get down to “I Drink Alone” with the best of them, but I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that there were better things I could be doing with my ears. With the recent re-release of Thorogood’s first two albums–the eponymous 1977 debut and its 1978 follow-up, Move It On Over–comes the opportunity to revisit and reassess Thorogood’s work, to put it in the proper context.
The rock scene of the mid-to-late 1970s was rife with turmoil. Punk was on the rise, combatting the excesses of prog and the self-centered caterwauling of the soft rock and singer/songwriter scenes. Meanwhile, a crop of back-to-basics roots rockers (e.g., Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, and John Mellencamp) were coming to the fore and finding their first measures of success.
Thorogood, though he was often lumped in with this latter class of musicians after the fact, didn’t fit comfortably in any of these scenes. He and his ace band were dedicated almost exclusively to the blues, as both these albums amply demonstrate. Even the country songs Thorogood and the Destroyers tackle on Move It On Over emphasize the genre’s roots in the blues. Adding to the anomaly, composition didn’t seem to matter much to Thorogood–there are two self-penned tunes on the debut and none on the follow-up.
No, all Thorogood and the Destroyers seemed to care about was playing the blues and playing it loud and raw. Given the times, this was itself somewhat revolutionary. As I’ve suggested, there was really nothing else like this going on at the time. And so on that level, I can appreciate these records not as mere revivals, but as something more akin to reclamation efforts. The statement here, insofar as there is one, is that the blues need not be tinkered with much to retain power. Crank up your amps to cut through the din of everything else going on, and the music continues to speak for itself. And Thorogood and his band fulfill that promise. There’s nothing on either of these albums that won’t get your foot tapping or your head shaking. It’s stripped down, freewheeling music, and it’s more fun than you can shake a stick at.
Still, the fact remains: some 30 years and countless back-to-basics movements down the road, it’s difficult to see why these records should be treasured as anything more than admittedly expert genre exercises. Perhaps it’s not necessary to consider them in any other light, but if that’s the case, then why not just go back to the originators? I’m sure even Thorogood himself would admit that, good as he can be, he’s no match for the masters he studied under.